Today’s Google Doodle is visible only to the residents of a measly nine countries: Australia, Hungary, Iceland, Indonesia, Japan, Portugal, South Korea, Sweden, and Taiwan. (If you've detected any through line to the selected countries, please share it with me; it's unclear why Google settled on those countries in particular, and my sleuthing yielded no answers.) The image shows six counterfeit food items, ranging from some soba noodles in tupperware to a ketchup-adorned omelette, arranged pristinely so as to resemble the word “Google.”
The illustration honors Takizo Iwasaki, the father of Japan’s now robust fake food industry. Today, September 12th, would’ve been his 121st birthday. Though he died in 1965, Iwasaki nevertheless laid the groundwork for a now-thriving Japanese empire of fake food, known as shokuhin sampuru (literally “food goods sample”). Replicas like the ones Iwasaki popularized are now ubiquitous in Japan, occupying storefronts and restaurant facades with the intention of coaxing passersby inside.
In spite of America's longstanding fascination with Japanese food—from wasabi-flavored Kit-Kats to tar-black cheeseburgers—the English-speaking world knows little about Iwasaki. Scouring the web for English-language resources on Iwasaki’s life yields scant results. But it is possible to cobble together an origin story: Iwasaki purportedly had a stroke of genius one day in 1932 when watching candle wax drip onto a tatami mat while tending to his ailing wife. Enchanted by the way the wax touched the mat, he decided to craft an omelette, of all possible food items, using that very wax material.
A photo posted by 雅英 柳川瀬 (@masahide.yanagawase) on
Iwasaki soon began to monetize his little masterworks. He founded the company Iwasaki-bei a few years after creating the omelette—it's now the country's biggest factory of fake food, churning out an alarming 200,000 sample food items per year. Though Iwasaki’s medium of choice was wax, most current versions are made with longer-lasting plastic and vinyl.
Shop the Story
In spite of his imprint, knowledge of Iwasaki’s work hasn’t permeated our larger, global cultural imagery. Perhaps this will change; Iwasaki’s previously nonexistent Wikipedia page was just created today.
Mayukh Sen is a James Beard Award-winning food and culture writer in New York. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the New Yorker, Bon Appetit, and elsewhere. He won a 2018 James Beard Award in Journalism for his profile of Princess Pamela published on Food52.